What you should know about Rinat Akhmetshin, the mysterious fifth person at Trump Jr.’s meeting

His presence was not initially disclosed.

CREDIT: AP Photo/Kathy Willens
CREDIT: AP Photo/Kathy Willens

A Russian-American lobbyist and alleged former Soviet counterintelligence officer, Rinat Akhmetshin, also attended Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting with a Russian lawyer, according to the Associated Press.

Akhmetshin’s attendance was first reported by NBC Friday morning, but NBC did not identify the individual. The lawyer with whom Trump Jr. met, Natalia Veselnitskaya, was described in emails posted by Trump Jr. on Twitter as a “Russian government lawyer,” is reported to have brought Akmetshin with her to the meeting.

The emails posted by Trump Jr. are a back and forth between Trump Jr. and Rob Goldstone, a British publicist who arranged the meeting. In the emails, Goldstone says he will send along the names of the two people Trump Jr., campaign chairman Paul Manafort, and President Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner will be meeting with.

Originally, Veselnitskaya told The New York Times that the person who joined her in the meeting “was an interpreter whom she declined to name.”

Although the emails say that the purpose of the meeting is to have Veselnitskaya provide Trump Jr. with damaging information on former Secretary of State and Democratic nominee for president Hillary Clinton, Trump Jr. says that none materialized.

Trump Jr. claims that Veselnitskaya’s information about Hillary was vague and lacked proof. Instead, she shifted the conversations to the Magnitsky Act, a sanctions bill that was signed into law by President Barack Obama in 2012 intended to punish Russian officials responsible for the death of Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky. Magnitsky died in a Russian prison after he uncovered a tax fraud scheme involving a number of high-level Russian officials.

The law allows the U.S. president to deny visas to and freeze the assets of individuals believed to be complicit in Magnitsky’s death.

Akhmetshin confirmed his presence at the meeting Friday and told the AP Friday that the meeting was “not substantive” and that he “actually expected a more serious discussion.”

Before the AP confirmed that Akhmetshin was the fifth person in attendance at the meeting, William Browder, one of the central forces behind the Magnitsky Act and founder of the investment advisory firm Hermitage Capital, told Business Insider Friday that Akhmetshin was the only person who fit the profile of the fifth attendee as laid out by NBC.

Akhmetshin is a now working as a lobbyist in Washington D.C. He has been advocating the repeal of the Magnitsky Act for several years. He has also been described as a former Soviet counterintelligence officer, but he denied those allegations, telling the AP Friday he was never trained in such a capacity.

However, Akhmetshin has told POLITICO he “was drafted as a Soviet counterintelligence officer but denied any ongoing affiliation with the Russian state.”

In any case, Browder told Business Insider, “In the world of Russian intelligence, there is no such thing as a ‘former intelligence officer… [I]n my opinion you had a member of Putin’s secret police directly meeting with the son of the future next president of the United States asking to change US sanctions policy crucial to Putin.”

U.S. officials have expressed concern about Akhmetshin’s connections to the Russian intelligence community as well.

Akhmetshin was named in a letter sent in March by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) to Acting Deputy Attorney General Dana Boente. In the letter, Grassley asks whether Akhmetshin, as part of his attempts to bring down the Magnitsky Act, should have registered as a foreign agent under the Foreign Agents Registration Act.

“Mr. Akhmetshin is a Russian immigrant to the U.S. who has admitted having been a ‘Soviet counterintelligence officer,’” Grassley’s letter said, citing the POLITICO article from last December. “In fact, it has been reported that he worked for the GRU” — Russia’s main intelligence agency— “and allegedly specializes in ‘active measures campaigns,’ i.e., subversive political influence operations often involving disinformation and propaganda.”

Grassley wrote another letter about Akhmetsin a few weeks after the first. The April letter to Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly expresses the same concerns that Akmetshin was lobbying illegally.

On Friday, The Daily Beast reported that Akhemetshin was accused by federal and state courts last June of an international hacking conspiracy. Radio Free Europe, in a profile of Akhmetshin last July, described Akhmetshin as a Russian “gun-for-hire” who “lurks in the shadows of Washington’s lobbying world.”

Trump Jr.’s lawyer told also NBC Friday morning that there may also have been a sixth person in the meeting but did not elaborate.